Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Justice in the Royal Gallery

One of the great triumphs of Magna Carta was the assertion of the right of those accused of crimes to trial by one’s peers, or per legale judicium parium suorum if you insist on the Latin. For commoners this meant trial by other commoners, but for peers it meant just that: trial by other peers of the realm. It was a bit murkier for peeresses, though after the conviction for witchcraft of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, (sentence: banishment to the Isle of Man) statute was passed including them in the judicial privilege of peerage.

Thanks to the ’15 and the ’45, there were a number of trials in the House of Lords in the eighteenth century, including that of the Catholic martyr Earl of Derwentwater. The whole of the nineteenth century, however, witnessed but one: the 7th Earl of Cardigan was acquitted of duelling by a jury of 120 peers. In 1901 the 2nd Earl Russell was found guilty of bigamy, and the last ever trial came in 1935 when the 26th Baron de Clifford was found not guilty of manslaughter.

Cardigan’s trial was in the temporary Lords chamber while the last two trials took place in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster (central to current debates over renovation plans). For Cardigan’s trial the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench was appointed Lord High Steward for the occasion, while for the final two the Lord Chancellor was likewise appointed to the role in order to be presiding judge with the Attorney General prosecuting the case.

The Royal Gallery is primarily used for the State Opening of Parliament (as above) and for the occasional address to both Houses of Parliament when important figures are invited to do so. De Gaulle was famously invited to speak here to both houses rather than in the larger Westminster Hall. It is thought that this is because the walls of the Royal Gallery feature two large murals, one of the Battle of Trafalgar, the other of the Battle of Waterloo – both British victories over the French.

The most famous trial in the Royal Gallery was fictional. In the 1949 Ealing comedy “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, the 10th Duke of Chalfont is tried for the one murder in the film’s plotline he didn’t actually commit. Ealing Studios did a mock-up of the chamber for the occasion (above), which compares reasonably accurately with the Royal Gallery as set up for the Baron de Clifford’s trial in 1936 (below).

The Lords, however, were uncomfortable with exercising this judicial function and passed a bill to abolish the privilege in 1937. The Commons, facing more serious tasks, declined to give it any attention. In 1948, the Criminal Justice Act abolished trials of peers in the House of Lords, along with penal servitude, hard labour, and whipping.

June 12, 2017 2:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The 8th Earl of Wicklow

William Cecil James Philip John Paul Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow (styled Viscount Clonmore from his birth until succeeding to the earldom in 1946) was received into the Church at the age of thirty in 1932. Having attended Mass with the family’s Catholic servants, he was banished from visiting the family home on Sundays in addition to being disinherited. He later married the architect Eleanor Butler who served in Seanad Éireann from 1948-1951. Above is one of three photographs of Viscount Clonmore in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

October 25, 2011 11:38 am | Link | 4 Comments »

‘I Have Prussiandom in my Blood’

Loriot on Prussia and Prussianness

November 2003

The Viennese weekly Falter interviewed Vicco von Bülow — better known as Loriot — in November of 2003. In part of the dialogue, Loriot explored the Prussianness of his family and upbringing, musing upon some aspects of what it is to be Prussian, turning away from the simplistic categorisations. Via Günter Kaindlstorfer.

Loriot: I am committed to my Prussian roots. I was born a Prussian, I have Prussian, so to speak, in my blood. That this defines you for yourself is not new. One is born there, so one has to accept it.

Prussian vices have caused too much harm over the past 150 years.

Loriot: That’s right, I will not deny it at all. Nevertheless, I am proud of my native town of Brandenburg; I am also proud of my country of origin. Here I will not deny, however, that I have been occasionally affected by the disaster that this country has done throughout history, time and again. Only: Which country has, over the centuries, not caused many evils? I will not have the Prussian reduced only to its negative sides. (more…)

October 16, 2011 8:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Fra Freddy, Rest In Peace

Yesterday, I was very saddened to hear of Fra Freddy’s death. Fra Freddy was a legendary character whom I was introduced to in my first year at St Andrews. He was invited to speak to the Catholic students most years on some subject or another — an introduction to prayer or a lenten meditation. I was quite pleased when he was so taken with a poster I designed to advertise one of his talks that on his way back to Edinburgh he nipped out of the car at the last minute and grabbed a large copy. Fra Freddy was an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud with a good sense of humour, but he also had the capability to surprise with a kind word when you least expected it.

Fra Fredrik John Patrick Crichton-Stuart was born September 6, 1940 to Lord Rhidian Crichton-Stuart (son of the 4th Marquess of Bute) and his wife Selina van Wijk (daughter of the Ambassador of the Queen of the Netherlands to the French Republic). He was raised in Scotland and North Africa (where his father was British Delegate to the International Legislative Assembly of Tangier) and was educated first at Carlekemp in North Berwick and then at Ampleforth. He joined the Order of Malta in 1962, later being named the Delegate for Scotland & the Northern Marches. In 1993 he was appointed Chancellor of the resurrected Grand Priory of England. Fra Freddy became Grand Prior himself when his cousin, Fra Andrew Bertie, died in 2008 and was succeeded by the then-Grand Prior of England, Fra Matthew Festing.

Fra Freddy was a devoted follower and promoter of the traditional form of the Roman rite. He joined Una Voce Scotland in 1996 and became secretary in 2000. Two years later he was named councillor and senior vice-president of FIUV, the International Federation ‘Una Voce’, and briefly served as its president in 2005.

Over the past year or so Fra Freddy had been varying ill but seemed to recover. I am told he was found dead yesterday morning, still clasping his breviary. He was well-known in Edinburgh and beyond, and he will be missed by his many friends as well as those who worked and volunteered with him or interacted with him in his charitable activities.

Grand Prior of England
of the
Sovereign Military & Hospitaller Order of St John
of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta

6 September 1940 – 14 June 2011

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.

June 15, 2011 8:00 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

Nobility and Dignity at the Café Valois

This story is related by Auguste de Belloy and was published in the nineteenth-century periodical L’Illustration under the title ‘Customs of the Café Valois’.

Farewell, O good old days! Farewell, O affable visage of the proprietor and smiling and respectful reception of the waiters! Farewell, O solemn entries of the Café Valois’ dignified customs, which people were curious to see. Such was the case with the Knight Commander Odoard de La Fere’s arrival.

At exactly noon, the canon of the Palais-Royal heralded his arrival. He would appear on the threshold and pause for a moment to sweep the salon with an affable and self-assured gaze as someone eager to practice a longtime custom. His right hand pressing firmly on the white and blue porcelain handle of his cane, he threw his old faded brown cape over his shoulder with a swing of his left hand. No one ever snickered at this, since not even the most elegant mantle with golden fleur-de-lys embroidery was ever thrown back with a more distinguished movement.

In 1789 the former steward of the Prince of Conti ran the Café Valois; it was rather devoid of political colour and local flavor at that time.

Among the frequenters of the place, standing out by his noble manners, stately demeanor and wooden leg, was the Chevalier de Lautrec. He was from the second line of that family, an old brigadier of the king’s army, a Knight of Malta, of Saint Louis, of Saint Maurice and of Saint Lazare.

The Chevalier de Lautrec was a middle-aged man who lived a modest, though very dignified life on his small pension. Though he rarely appeared in society, he could be seen most often at the Palais Royal and the Café Valois. He was a very cultured mind and an assiduous reader of all the newspapers.

Deprived of his pension overnight, it was never known what the Chevalier de Lautrec lived on at a time when it was so difficult to live, and so easy to die. But here we have something that sheds at least a dim light on this mystery.

One morning after finishing a very modest breakfast in the Café Valois, as was his custom, the Chevalier de Lautrec rose from his table, chatted with all naturalness with the proprietress, who stood behind a counter, bid good-day to the master of the café with a slight gesture of the eyes, and walked out majestically saying nothing about the bill. (more…)

May 29, 2011 8:12 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

A Pell Sighting

…and sundry other occurences

Outside of Rome, you don’t run into cardinals all that often, but last Saturday I caught sight of one of the most popular clerics in the Catholic Church: Australia’s Cardinal Pell. The occasion was the Cardinal’s reception into the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George, which took place in the Little Oratory. His Royal Highness the Duke of Noto presided over the investiture, and if you squint your eyes enough you can make out a profile shot of Young Cusack in the background of the photo of the Duke (below). In addition to the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney’s being made a Bailiff Grand Cross of Justice, six others were invested as members of the Constantinian Order, including His Excellency Don Antonio da Silva Coelho, the Ambassador of the Order of Malta to the Republic of Peru. For more info, see the Order’s notice on the event. (more…)

February 15, 2011 8:14 pm | Link | 3 Comments »


The photographs of “Manni” Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn

IT’S A CRACKING photo; the sort of thing guaranteed to irk the puritanical and bring a smile to the good-humoured. The thirteen-year-old Yvonne Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn takes a swig from a bottle while her brother Alexander, just twelve, sits with a half-smoked cigarette. Taken aboard the yacht of Bartholomé March off Majorca in 1955, the photographer was Marianne “Manni” Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn — the mother of Yvonne and Alexander — who’s known by her photographic soubriquet of “Mamarazza”. (more…)

February 14, 2011 8:00 am | Link | 14 Comments »

The House of Moctezuma

Noble Descendants of the Aztec Emperor

The last Emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma II (usually anglicised as ‘Montezuma’) suffered an ignominious end: defeated by the Spanish, some accounts have him being stoned by his former subjects, while others claim he died of starvation, refusing to eat food not worthy of an emperor, still more claim Cortés had him killed. Many of his descendants embraced Christianity and found favour from Mexico’s new overlord, the King of Spain. (more…)

October 24, 2010 10:00 pm | Link | 16 Comments »

Zuma: Government Will Mediatise Six of South Africa’s Monarchies

Six of South Africa’s thirteen monarchies are to be mediatised, the country’s president announced in July. A report by the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims of the South African government concluded that the six dynasties had been raised from chiefdoms to monarchies by the apartheid government for purely political reasons and suggested that their government funding and recognition be ended. President Zuma said the aim of the move was to correct “the wrongs of the past” but that no one was being accused of collaboration with the apartheid authorities. The six incumbent rulers will retain their styles and dignities while their successors will revert to the rank of princely chiefs.

“We have been waiting for this decision for a long time,” Khosi Fhumulani Kutama, the Chairman of the National House of Traditional Leaders told the media. “It is important that people accept it not only for the institution of traditional leadership but for the whole country.”

But the indications so far are that the six monarchies will take the government to court in an attempt to forestall the demotion.

Up to this point, the most significant spate of mediatisation was during the Napoleonic era, when Talleyrand arranged the demotion and reorganisation of conquered German lands.

September 7, 2010 12:30 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Titles in Afrikaans

ROYAL, NOBLE, AND common titles in Afrikaans are, like most of the language, descended from Dutch antecedents which, in turn, come from German. The Cape knew not the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was established after the Dutch relinquished the colony, but was founded as an outlet of the Dutch East India Company (or V.O.C., to give its Dutch acronym). After a brief period of British occupation, Dutch dominion over the Cape returned during the Batavian Republic before finally being seized by the British in 1806 and erected as a British colony in 1814. When the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, the country had its first king, George V, though the sovereign was generally only referred to as ‘King of South Africa’ from 1927 onwards.

The country has had no emperors, though some like to attribute that title to Shaka, the greatest King of the Zulus. Typically, however, he is known as king (as in King Shaka International Airport, Durban’s brand new landing-place). South Africa’s royalty have tended to be either native (like Prince Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela) or German (like Prince Hubertus of Prussia, d. 1950, and a few Blüchers, etc.). (more…)

May 9, 2010 8:24 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

‘The Tolstoy of Transylvania’

In his column in the Daily Telegraph, former editor Charles Moore praises Miklos Banffy as ‘the Tolstoy of Transylvania’. Ardent Banffyites like yours truly are always pleased when the Hungarian novelist gets attention in the English-speaking world, which happens all too rarely. I can’t remember how on earth I stumbled upon the works of Banffy, probably through reading the Hungarian Quarterly, a publication that — covering art, literature, history, politics, science, and more — is admirably polymathic in our age where the specialist niche is worshipped.

Simply put, Miklos Banffy is a must-read. If you love Paddy Leigh Fermor’s telling of his youthful walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (the third and final installation of which we still await), then Miklos Banffy will be right up your alley. Start with his Transylvanian trilogy — They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided.

The story follows two cousins, the earnest Balint Abady and the dissolute László Gyeroffy, Hungarian aristocrats in Transylvania, and the varying paths they take in the final years of European civilization. The novels “are full of love for the way of life destroyed by the First World War,” Charles Moore points out, “but without illusion about its deficiencies.” Three volumes of nearly one-and-a-half thousand pages put together, they make for deeply, deeply rewarding reading, transporting you to the world that ended with the crack of an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo, 1914.

After finishing his trilogy, Banffy’s autobiographical The Phoenix Land is worthwhile; some of the real events depicted shadow those in the fictional novels. As previously mentioned, it contains a description of the last Hapsburg coronation (that of Blessed Charles) and numerous amusing tales. After that, I’m afraid you will have to learn Hungarian, as I have neglected to do, as no more of this author’s oeuvre has yet been translated into English.

January 12, 2010 2:52 pm | Link | 8 Comments »

The Internal Exile of the Saar

At the beginning of Hitler’s rule, many patriotic German anti-Hitlerites fled to the Saarland, which was Germany but still under French occupation. In a bizarre state of internal exile, anti-Nazi publications, be they Christian, Nationalist, Communist, or Jewish flourished for a very brief period. One of these journals was Das Reich, founded by Hubertus Prinz zu Löwenstein, who (if I recall my personal studies from St Andrews years properly) was a bit of a rogue in his own way, sympathizing with the Red forces during the Spanish Civil War.

A plebiscite on rejoining the Saarland with Germany proper had been scheduled before Hitler’s rise to power (just like the lamentable award of the 1936 Olympics to Berlin, though they turned out to be some of the most influential and well-run games to date) and, while the inhabitants were no keen Hitlerites, they had naturally tired of French occupation and duly voted to kick the French out. Right result, but very poor timing.

The anti-Hitlerites had to flee further, to Paris (where Pariser Tageblatt and later Pariser Tageszeitung were founded), London, and New York. German Jews sometimes fled as far as Shanghai where the English-language Shanghai Jewish Chronicle began a German edition in response to the influx. (There are some interesting stories about Shanghai Jews, and of course the famous newspaper-owning family of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Shanghai, but they’ll have to wait for another day).

December 13, 2009 9:12 pm | Link | No Comments »

Krummau, Crown of the Moldau

BY NOW THE denizens of this little corner of the web are surely aware of Krummau, the splendid castle and town that towers above the banks of the Moldau river in Bohemia. I was never particularly interested in Bohemia until Fr. Emerson came up to St Andrews and gave a talk on the Hapsburgs. Unfortunately, this was before they began to record the talks (and offer them online) as it was an excellent brief lecture that I’d love to revisit. Now Bohemia is one of my passions, in addition to an increasingly large burden of passions (Scotland, New York, Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa, France, Hungary, Transylvania, Canada, Scandinavia, … ). The architecture is superb and varied, and of course the Duke of Krummau is none other than a certain Prague pol. The complex is no longer in the Schwarzenberg family, but is instead now the State Castle of Český Krumlov.

The Chapel of Saint George in the Castle once contained the skull and bones of Pope St. Callixtus I. The remains were obtained by the Emperor Charles IV, who gave them to the Rosenberg family who built the castle, from whom they (and the castle itself) passed to the Schwarzenbergs, only to be lost after 1614. Nonetheless, the skull of an unknown North African martyr came here in 1663, and tradition donated to the unknown saint the name of Callixtus also.

There is a long history of bear-keeping at Krummau, from at least the sixteenth century, and the castle has a specially devoted bear moat constructed in 1707. I am delighted to learn that this tradition has been revived by the current Czech overseers of the castle, who clearly are not mere bureaucrats but have a particular devotion to this magnificent place and its history.

The two adult ursine residents of Krummau are Vok and Kateřina. This aristocratic couple gave birth to their son Hubert, while the Zoological Park at Innsbruck has donated the young lady bear Marie Terezie. The bears of Krummau are an absolute delight to the children of the town, who sing carols to them at Yuletide, prepare them delicacies on holidays (under the supervision of the bear-keepers), and make sure that their bears never suffer for want of apples.

The castle also has on display the Golden Carriage of Duke Johann Anton I von Eggenberg, used during the Duke’s 1638 trip to Rome as envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor to Pope Urban VIII. The actual purpose of this coach was to convey the gifts of the Emperor to the Supreme Pontiff. The coach was sent to Hluboká by the Communist authorities, but it has been returned and restored, and rests in the Eggenberg Hall of the castle.

The magnificent Castle Theatre at Krummau is one of the stateliest court theatres in Europe. Among other current uses, it is home to the annual Festival of Baroque Arts organised by Hofmusici, a Czech ensemble of young musicians who perform Baroque-era music on period instruments. In addition to purely musical performances, baroque operas are performed in the Castle Theatre, for which the musicians dress in an appropriate court livery.

It is obvious that the best possible thing for a castle or palace is for a family with deep pockets and deep-rooted traditions to be in possession of it. We must rejoice nonetheless that at least in the case of the State Castle of Český Krumlov, this ancient gem has found caretakers who realise its peculiarity and preciousness.

October 29, 2009 8:12 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

The Freiherr of Finance

Germany’s new finance minister, Freiherr zu Guttenberg & his wife, Freifrau Stephanie.
Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg does not have a snappy name. Perhaps that is why he is known in Bavaria as “the Rocking Baron”. Unusually for a man whose family tree stretches back to the 12th century, the 37-year-old aristocrat has charisma and a glittering political future. In February he became Germany’s youngest economics minister, and in Sunday’s elections he won the highest percentage of constituency votes of any candidate. He became the envy of fellow politicians by attracting thousands of people to his rallies, a phenomenon not witnessed since Helmut Kohl. The Windsors should take note. As the leading contenders drained the colour from their campaigns by trying to say as little as possible, the young baron triumphed by being himself — a mixture of fiscal conservatism and an even-handed personality unafraid to challenge orthodoxy. He opposed the proposed buyout of Opel by a consortium led by the Canadian spare parts maker Magna and the Russian bank Sberbank, but he got plaudits for standing up to Angela Merkel. Guts are in the family genes. His great-grand-uncle, the Catholic monarchist Karl Ludwig von Guttenberg, was tortured by the Gestapo and shot after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. He revealed no names of the fellow plotters. Mr Guttenberg does not need a job. He gets more than he needs from his family estate in Bavaria. If duty impels him, German politics will be all the richer.

Unmentioned by this editorial is that Baron zu Guttenberg’s grandfather (his mother’s father) was the late German winemaker & Croatian politician the Count of Vukovar. From the Count, Baron zu Guttenberg is descended from the noble house of Eltz, who are responsible for one of my favourite castles in the whole world, Burg Eltz, which once graced the 500-deutschmark note.

At the ripe age of 70, the Count of Vukovar took up arms in defence of the town of Vukovar during the Yugoslav Wars of 1991. The Count was elected to the Croatian parliament the following year as an independent, and served in that body until 1999, when he retired from politics. Nonetheless, the Croatian parliament persuaded him to accept honourary membership of parliament in his own right, in which role he continued until his death in 2006.

The Baron’s wife, meanwhile, is Stephanie, Countess of Bismarck-Schönhausen, great-great-granddaughter of the “Iron Chancellor”, Otto von Bismarck. A portent of this economics minister’s future?

October 5, 2009 8:10 am | Link | 21 Comments »

Prague Prince Propels Pristine Party

New Grouping May Hold Balance of Power After Next Bohemian Vote

PRINCE KARL VII, current head of the House of Schwarzenberg and sometime foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently combined with other political colleagues to form a new party in time for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bohemia. A number of supporters of the Christian & Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) were disappointed with the selection of the left-leaning Cyril Svoboda as party chairman, and have formed a new conservative group, Tradice Odpovědnost Prosperita 09 or “Tradition Responsibility Prosperity ’09″.

Prince Karl — or Karel Schwarzenberg as he is known for electoral purposes — suggests that Bohemian voters have grown disenchanted with the current choice of political parties on offer. “The results of the last elections – the worst were the election to the European Parliament, but even the national elections – show that the degree of support for political parties by Czech citizens is going steadily down,” the Prince told Radio Prague.

“People are evidently not content with the parties that are offered to them, and they are more and more fed up. I read this in the e-mails I get and letters, and hear it in pubs and wherever. And as we think that there is still a lot of work to be done in our country, we decided to offer at least some alternative. That’s it.” (more…)

September 23, 2009 9:12 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Seanad Éireann

Ireland’s senate is a curious creature. Its first members were co-opted & appointed and these included seven peers, a dowager countess, and five baronets and knights, twenty-three Protestants, and a Jew. Among this cast of characters were W. B. Yeats, General Sir Bryan Mahon, and the physician-poet-author Oliver St. John Gogarty. In 1937, however, the Seanad Éireann took its current form, and since the abolition of the Bavarian upper house in 1999, the Seanad is (so far as my research can discover) the last corporately organised parliamentary body in Europe.

There are sixty members of the Irish senate, who are chosen by a variety of means. (more…)

July 13, 2009 2:13 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

S.R.E. & S.R.I.

Left, a prince of the Holy Roman Church and right, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

Credit: I think this is one of Zygmunt’s photos.

June 6, 2009 6:13 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Count von Stauffenberg: “We Live in a Society of Lemmings”

Count Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg, the third son of Hitler’s would-be assassin Count Claus von Stauffenberg and brother to Gen. Berthold von Stauffenberg, recently spoke to the German magazine FOCUS about Germany’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Stauffenberg, a father of four and grandfather of eight, has spent his life as an attorney and a politician for the Bavarian Christian Social Union party, serving in the Bundestag from 1976 to 1987 and as a Member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1992.

FOCUS asked the Count about his participation in the German court challenge against the Lisbon Treaty.

“I see the way to [the Constitutional Court] as a last resort,” the Count said, “and had hoped that we could compel a re-think through an ordinary democratic manner, through argument, debate, and public pressure. This has totally failed. I’m not anti-European; I was long enough a CSU Member of the European Parliament. This Europe is no longer compatible with the basic structures of a democratic legal state.

FOCUS: Has your case something to do with your experience as the son of the resistance fighter Count von Stauffenberg?

“No. My father expected that his children would … stand on their own as a man or woman. I didn’t go into politics from devout worship of my father, but because of the unsuccessful paths of my peers from the generation of 1968.”

FOCUS: Your action comes late. Why have you waited so long?

“In Brussels, there was no sudden seizure of power, but a systematic, persistent development, in which the Bundestag deputies, constantly obedient and even docile, incapacitated themselves. They see themselves as a reserve team for higher office rather than in their actual role as inspectors to reflect, as a counter force on equal footing.”

FOCUS: How can it be that so few see a risk in the Lisbon Treaty, and the rest should be so beaten with blindness?

“In Germany, almost no one wanted to hear concerns. We live in a society of lemmings.

Link: Graf Stauffenberg: “Wir leben in einer Gesellschaft von Lemmingen” (In German)

March 24, 2009 12:41 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Debating Stauffenberg

The recent release of the Hollywood film “Valkyrie” has brought the July ’44 plot back into the limelight. Much debate has focussed on the central figure of Count von Stauffenberg, especially the motivation and inspiration for his attempt to overthrow the Nazi regime. Writing in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Richard Evans (Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge) asks “Why did Stauffenberg plant the bomb?” Prof. Evans argues that the Count’s contempt for liberalism combined with his (Stefan George-influenced) romantic nostalgia « make him ill-fitted to serve as a model for the conduct and ideas of future generations » .

A week later, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published “Unmasking the July 20 plot“, a response to Evans by Karl Heinz Bohrer, the publisher of Merkur and a visiting professor at Stanford. Bohrer counters Evans on two fronts. « Firstly Evans’s lesson consisted of historical half truths, contradictory theses and slanderous allusions to Stauffenberg’s character; and secondly, such distortions differ very little from the view held by West German intelligentsia regarding the events of July 20th 1944 and the conspirators who were, for the most part, of aristocratic Prussian stock. … For a proper understanding of the how the plot against Hitler of 1944 is seen and judged today, one should bear in mind that today’s horizon has shifted. »

« There is no question that like Ernst Jünger and Gottfried Benn, Stauffenberg’s first spiritual influence, Stefan George, entertained pre-fascist fantasies. And there is also no question that the young Stauffenberg’s reverence for the medieval ‘reich’ was reactionary – in a similar vein to Novalis’s ideas in ‘Die Christenheit oder Europa’. But what does that mean? Neither of them had political ideas that could in any way have served as a model for democratic European societies in the second half of the twentieth century. But to fundamentalise this tautological insight to effectively deny the conspirators any moral or cultural relevance is blinkered and constitutes intellectual bigotry. George, Jünger and Benn’s pre-fascist fantasies contained important modernist symbols which mean they cannot be judged by political moralist criteria, alone. The same goes for Stauffenberg and his friends who – in a different way to the “idealistic” Scholl siblings and their circle – represented a calibre of ethics, character and culture class of which today’s politicians and other bureaucratic elites can only dream. »

In that same week, Bernard-Henri Lévy — the omnipresent French man of letters — waddled into the debate with “Beyond the war hero” in the pages of Le Point. BHL proclaims the release of “Valkyrie” is unquestionably good, for it is inherently good for the world to honour its heroes. « Riveting as it is however, this film poses certain questions that are too complex and too delicate to be resolved solely within the logic of the Hollywood film industry. »

In a moment of pure irony, Lévy attacks the lack of accuracy in the film while making a gross historical error himself. The philosopher asks whether « raising someone to hero status does not always happen, alas, to the detriment of precision, nuance and history itself. The film shows Stauffenberg’s integrity very well. It shows his courage, the nobility of his views, his firmness of spirit. But what does it tell us of his thoughts? What does it teach us about why he enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party in 1933? » In actual fact, while Stauffenberg’s family members were concerned that he was “turning brown” the Count never joined the Nazi Party; not in 1933, not ever.

In a sense, Lévy has answered his own question in that Stauffenberg’s elevation has apparently taken place to the detriment of precision and history in that Lévy is apparently unaware of quite central historical facts of the case.

Previously: Stauffenberg

February 28, 2009 2:49 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

The Coronation of Blessed Charles

Blessed Emperor Charles was crowned as Apostolic King of Hungary on the 30th of December in 1916. It was the last Hapsburg coronation to this day. For those interested there are two accounts which do justice to the sacred rites. One is by that most devoted admirer of the Hapsburgs, Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in his excellent biography of Charles, The Last Hapsburg. (Brook-Shepherd also wrote excellent and quite readable biographies of the Empress Zita, of Crown Prince Otto, of Chancellor Dollfuß, and Baron Sir Rudolf von Slatin Pasha).


October 21, 2008 8:46 pm | Link | 3 Comments »
Home | About | Contact | Categories | Paginated Index | Twitter | Facebook | RSS/Atom Feed | © Andrew Cusack 2004-present (Unless otherwise stated)